M3GAN is a fun horror thriller in line with Malignant and The Evil Dead. Read our review of the thrilling doll scarefest.
There is a lot of Malignant running through the veins of M3GAN, the horror thriller which went viral last October when the first trailer showcased some pretty funky dance moves. Malignant was memorably 2021’s wackiest film. Directed by James Wan and written by Akela Cooper, it was the kind of B-horror thrill fest that most more straightforward horror films wish they could be.
Like Malignant, M3GAN is delightfully weird and self-aware. Cooper wrote this one too and if anything, M3GAN ramps up the self-awareness; Cooper and director Gerard Johnstone are definitely in on the joke, the joke being that M3GAN is hilariously off the rails. Clearly, it works because M3GAN had a very successful opening weekend in the US.
Gemma (Allison Williams) is suddenly forced to become the guardian for her niece Cady after Cady’s parents die in a terrible car accident. Gemma is not prepared to have this much responsibility, especially as her career as a roboticist has her working a lot.
To help her look after Cady, Gemma creates M3GAN – Model 3 Generative Android – a lifelike toy or a companion which she plans on massproducing it and making it into the only toy a kid would ever need. M3GAN is so advanced that it doesn’t take long before she starts evolving in a dangerous manner.
What’s surprising about M3GAN is just how much it actually has to say about parenting and technology. A lesser film would have been content with jump scares and the aforementioned dance moves, but Cooper really puts emphasis on Gemma’s predicament. She’s thrown into a situation that she is wildly unprepared for, but also does not want to be in. She has no desire to be a parent at this stage and that’s okay.
Gemma’s pitch for M3GAN even says that the toy was created to hang out with the kids so that “you can focus on the things that really matter”. It may sound harsh, but it simply speaks to Gemma’s current priorities in life and a child was not one of those priorities until very recently and Gemma had no control over it.
Williams, who proved her worth in Jordan Peele’s Get Out as the villainous girlfriend to Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris, is great here. She makes Gemma empathetic, but desperately out of her depth as she attempts to adjust to the life of a parent. Violet McGraw, lovely in The Haunting of Hill House, is also decent, although the script doesn’t give her much to do other than look sad or mildly frightened.
But the real star of the show is M3GAN herself. Played by Amie Donald and voiced by Jenna Davis, M3GAN might not be quite as vicious as one would hope, but she is creepy. Her uncanniness lends appropriate terror to the film, which otherwise often is a little on the soft side.
There’s a case to be made that M3GAN could have gone harder on all fronts. It’s nowhere near as shocking, violent or wild as it could – and perhaps should – be, but it is consistently entertaining. What M3GAN lacks in suspense, it makes up for in humour, but the balance is often a little off. Unfortunately, most of the funnier bits have already been shown in the trailer and clips which have gone viral. It would have been incredible to witness M3GAN galloping in the woods for the first time on the big screen, but these moments – clearly designed for online fame – feel calculated and hold very little value in the grand scheme of things.
What saves M3GAN is the story and its meaningful themes that Johnstone and Cooper explore with care and depth usually reserved for awards-worthy dramas. The film might already have the cult following it so clearly desires and it might even act as a great gateway film to horror for younger film fans, but the lack of suspense in the last act nearly kills the film. Still, M3GAN is thrillingly original and entertaining, even with its obvious flaws. Apparently a sequel is on the way and we would happily watch a lot more of M3GAN’s dancing.
M3GAN is in cinemas 13 January.